Home is a Place Where Things Are Understood and Accepted — Rob Rutherford and Darren Borrino
NAME Rob Rutherford and Darren Borrino
ROLE Creative Director
BIRTH CITY Johannesburg
CITIES LIVED IN New York, Prague, Sydney, Johannesburg
Can you tell us about how you met? And when did you make the move to New York?
Rob: Darren and I started working together about fifteen years ago in South Africa. We were both juniors in advertising. We worked together for two years and then went on separate paths. I stayed in Johannesburg and we teamed up again after a few years when we decided to make a move together to New York.
Darren: During my early years, as much as I felt like South Africa was home, I also felt that I was young and had a skill that people needed in other parts around the world, so I decided to travel.
I believed that you can go out on adventures as much as you want and still keep a little bit of home in your heart. It’s natural to feel an emotional connection with the place you grow up, but one thing people don’t ever tell you is that you can go back home when you want and a part of it always stays with you.
I got a job and moved to Prague after working in Johannesburg for two years. I think I visited home only once during my two and a half years of living in the Czech Republic and it was a very good feeling coming back and having an easy connection with home. After Prague, I went to Sydney and worked there for four and a half years. I had a South African boss at one of the agencies there, so that was a little bit of home and made a big difference. After that, I returned to South Africa and met Rob again for a beer. Rob mentioned casually that they were pitching for a large car company and I just arrived at their doorstep on Monday and asked if I could join the team.
Rob: At that point, I knew Darren was in South Africa and was thinking of making a move to New York. As moving to a different country had been on my mind for a while, I thought it would be a good idea professionally for us to make the move together, and it also appealed on a personal level as we were friends. We worked together for a while, won several awards as part of the agency, and then when the opportunity came to make the move to New York, we both took it.
How was your move to New York?
Rob: I was motivated to get out into the world, explore and have an adventure. I wanted to experience living in another country and be able to exercise the freedom to go anywhere in the world. On a career level, I wanted to test myself with the biggest and best in the world. Personal circumstances in the past hadn’t allowed me to make this move but when the time came, I took the opportunity. I had a little bit of fear and the thought of moving was at first quite daunting, but I was also very excited to finally make this move I’d wanted to make for some time. It has been around three years now, and it has absolutely proved to be the right decision because it has given me all the things I was hoping to get out of this experience. For the most part, it has not been easy, but it has given me more than I had hoped.
Darren: It’s amazing how things aren’t always what you expect and every country is different. When I moved to Prague, I expected the cultural differences in terms of the language, food and many other things. But when I moved to Australia and then New York, I thought it would be easier. However, though all the places I lived in were big cities and the people spoke English, in terms of the sense of humor and cultural sensitivity, I learnt very quickly that every place is very unique. Personally, I feel South Africans can be quite brash when it comes to their sense of humor and not everyone gets it!
Rob: That’s true.
A lot of our experiences are locked in this general ether of experience and the subtle differences in mannerisms or way of life, which you don’t notice in the beginning, make a huge difference over time. These new experiences make you realize you are not at home and get you thinking of big questions like what is home?
Do you think you would have had a different experience moving if you hadn’t had each other?
Rob: I think it would have been a lot more unpleasant; there would have probably been a lot more homesickness too. We have each other to fall back on and are sort of a sounding board in difficult situations as well as good ones. I would like to think that I would have come through the entire experience and survived, but it would have been harder and a lot of the key decisions I have made would have been different.
Darren: It’s similar to when you go on an adventure. You reach the top of the mountain and see something beautiful or absurd and want to share that moment with someone. And that’s the way life is as well; you want to share it—good or bad. It feels like an adventure when you have someone and doesn’t feel like you are just surviving.
What does home mean to you?
For me, home is a place where there are millions of tiny little things that are understood and accepted and don’t need to be verbalized or explained. This can be everything from cultural references to the sense of humor and tone of voice; it’s almost in your DNA, fully in your element. It’s like being a fish in water.
When you’re in a foreign country with fewer common connecting factors, you are like a fish out of water. You have to at least become amphibious and adapt to living outside of water. That’s the fun and challenge of moving to a new country. It’s always been easy for us being with South Africans and Africans because we don’t need to explain ourselves and there is a mutual warmth and understanding. But the interesting thing is that I have felt the same warmth in New York with people who share similar values, people who may share some of those millions of tiny things with us.
Darren: Home is something similar to me as well.
It is when you don’t have to think about what you’re doing. Whenever I visit or move to another country, I am constantly paying attention to the customs, how things work, the rules of the city I am in, and even simple things like what side of the road I should be walking on. I am far more alert. Whereas I feel relaxed and comfortable in South Africa, as that is the place I grew up. That feeling is home to me.
Do you get homesick, and what do you do when you get homesick?
Darren: I think we are slightly more immune to feeling homesick compared to many other people because we are creative people. It’s in our nature to find new things interesting. Though I need some parts of home with me wherever I go, I get excited by new places which have nothing to do with home.
Rob: It’s all new material for our thinking. The more people you meet, the more experiences you have, the more things you see, acts like creative ammunition for a creative person.
Darren: Also, as I am constantly connected to my family through social media and messaging apps, I never really feel homesick. A few years ago home would have felt really far and I would have been more homesick without technology, but now it doesn’t feel that way.
Rob: I don’t feel far away from home at all. I feel like I can get into a cab, go to JFK, and be home by morning. In fact, when I last visited South Africa, I woke up in the morning looking out of my apartment towards the East River and midtown Manhattan and the Empire State Building and then, within twenty-four hours, I was looking at a giraffe in the Kruger National Park in South Africa on a trip with my family.
Is there an object that you carried when you moved here?
Darren: I have one thing, not so much of an object, that I carry with me these days…it’s Rob. Rob’s my object from home. I feel we carried a bit of home in each other.
Rob: We often do talk to each other about references from back home that no one here gets, so in some sense it’s like having someone that reminds you of home. But on a serious note, my object would be a small wooden bench, which is about one foot long, half a foot high and is made out of yellowwood. Yellowwood is a beautiful indigenous South African tree, which takes a long time to grow but can grow very high. My dad is a conservationist and uses only wood that is antique. So my dad and I made this bench for my grandmother in 1990 in a workshop. I put her name at the bottom of the bench and signed it. I also have a handful of other things, like an oil painting of my dad’s farm where I spent a lot of time in my childhood, and then I have a Soweto Gold 1976 beer bottle from a client project from South Africa. I dislike clutter but I do like to have a few things that have a sentimental connection to me. As I mentioned before, I never really feel homesick but I certainly do feel a certain type of warmth when I see these things.
Darren: I feel I’ve gotten further away from such sentimental or materialistic attachments as I have traveled a lot. I’ve become a nomad. But I do have one of those Soweto Gold 1976 beer bottles in my house, too. I didn’t think of it until Rob mentioned it right now.
Do you have memories of your first childhood home?
Darren: My first childhood home was the house I was born in. I remember distinctly, my dad and I had planted a pomegranate tree in the front yard together. I remember sitting in the front waranda of my house and eating the fruit from that tree with him. Now whenever I have a pomegranate, which is hardly ever because they are not that common here, it takes me back to that memory and I miss my dad. One day I’ll have a pomegranate tree in my house just for that reason.
Rob: It’s hard for me to remember my first childhood home because we moved around a lot when I was quite young. But I do have some memories living in this one house when I was around two years old. I remember stealing my sister’s Easter egg chocolates from the top of the cupboards. I would drag a chair, climb up the cupboard and eat all of them, not for a second realizing that what I was doing was wrong. And then being surprised by my family’s reaction when they would get mad at me. All my memories from my childhood are very suburban; living in houses with trees all around.